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How to pick a distributor to further your sustainability goals

May 25, 2013


By Dave Scholten

If you are looking to become more sustainable at your restaurant, selecting a distributor that can meet those needs is a particularly important part of achieving that goal. There’s a lot that goes into developing a sustainability plan and we think it’s essential that certain questions be asked to help determine how effective a partner your distributor will be as you embark on your environmentally responsible journey. So, ask yourself the following:

1. Does the distributor have a sustainability strategy? Every link in the supply chain contributes to the ultimate sustainability of the products you and your restaurant use. For that very reason, it is vitally important you ask prospective distributors what they do to make their operations more sustainable. After you’ve determined that they do implement sustainable activities and find out what they are, demand they provide you with regular progress updates.

2. When it comes to sustainability, how transparent is the distributor? The best advice I can offer is to tell you to make sure your distributor’s sustainable practices are verified constantly and consistently. Choose a company that is willing — and able — to share its sustainability endeavors, and outline its capabilities regarding local sourcing, energy conservation, waste management, product tracking, and any other sustainability-related issues that are important to you.

3. Is your potential distributor connected to sustainability leaders in the industry? Participation in industry groups that support sustainable measures and programs indicates the distributor’s commitment will extend beyond making a sale. The distributor you choose must be able to “walk the talk” before being hired.

4. Can the distributor provide you with additional sustainability tools? Beyond product, distributors also should offer a variety of resources for you to access. Ask if they offer waste management or energy audit programs and whether they have product tracking or local sourcing capabilities? Those are the types of tools that will help guide you and your operation down a more sustainable path.

5. Does the potential distributor offer a broad range of sustainable product options? Sustainability means different things to different people. For some, sustainability refers only to environmental issues, but others equate it with other things, like support of local communities. Many look at it from the standpoint of health and nutrition. I’m personally partial to a definition that encompasses all of those perspectives and more. Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future. That covers everything from recycling waste materials and buying local ingredients to offering more healthful options, among other things. Ultimately, it is up to you to develop your own philosophies and rationale on sustainable issues, and it is your responsibility to choose the distributor whose product offerings encompass the various levels of environmental, social, and economic sustainability you are interested in practicing at your restaurant operation.

By posing those questions to distributors during the evaluation process, you will be able to better define ‑ and refine ‑ your own sustainability goals. It will also leave you better able to communicate your sustainable strategies to your customers, staff members and other vendors.

Dave Scholten is commercial segment manager for Gordon Food Service and a member of the National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Sustainability Advisory Council, which offers restaurateurs a better understanding of environmental awareness and resource efficiency.


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